This past Labor Day weekend in Philadelphia, anyone looking for a non-stop party turned to the Made in America festival. Even with the diverse lineup that included the post-hardcore of Glassjaw, the soul music of Mayer Hawthorne, and the folky sounds of City and Colour, every act had one thing in common: the ability to keep bodies moving.
For the third year, thousands filled the estimated 1.5 million square foot area in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum. Over the course of two days, the Jay Z curated event featured 50 artists performing on four stages.
The oOohh Baby Gimme Mores
Day one kicked off with a high energy performance by Toronto band, The oOohh Baby Gimme More's (OBGM's). Lead singer Densil McFarlane was determined to get the crowd pumped for the day ahead by tossing out red tambourines and placing a plastic lei around the necks of those in the front.
Young & Sick
While The OBGM's were still attracting the festival’s newcomers, Young & Sick started the very first performance at Liberty, the second main stage. Led by Dutch singer and artist, Nick Van Hofwegen, the Los Angeles-based band sang synth-lead R&B songs as people filled the space in front of the stage. Although their last song, “Ghost,” lost its audio and video feed because Cherub’s set at the Rocky Stage had started, Hofwegen and company didn’t seem to notice or care as they finished their set.
Throughout the weekend the various bands playing at the Skate Park stage created the perfect soundtrack for skateboarders showing off their skills. Located before the vertigo ride and across from the seven hours of consecutive DJ sets at the EDM Freedom Stage, the park welcomes new arrivals with upbeat, head banging punk inspired tunes.
Big Daddy Kane
It was an unwritten rule to keep everyone “turnt up” and every act on the lineup succeeded. Seasoned rapper Big Daddy Kane kept the momentum up with his legendary fast delivery of hits like “Ain’t No Half Steppin’.” With no obscenities in his lyrics, he was still able to mesmerize the audience. One woman said – almost in disbelief – “He’s so smooth!” It was obvious from this performance that the 45-year-old rapper has still got it.
J. Cole made a powerful statement with his introduction: a video montage of police brutality. The footage ranged from the civil rights movement to present day. Cole’s recently released Michael Brown tribute song, “Be Free” served as the soundtrack. After the words “MADE IN AMERICA” appeared on the screen, Cole briskly walked on stage to the music of “Enchanted.” From the moment he shouted, “Philly, Sing!” until his last song, “Power Trip,” the sea of people in front of the Freedom Stage took part in a sing-a-long to all his hits.
Steve Aoki was the perfect precursor to Kanye West. He kept crowd participation at the maximum level. As is expected, Aoki tossed not one, but two cakes into the crowd, and rinsed them off with a bottle of champagne. It’s safe to say that by the end of his set everyone was ready to head to the main stage for the final act of the night.
Two things have become a staple for any Kanye West performance: a jeweled Maison Martin Margiela mask and at least one rant. Fans at Made In America were treated to both of these. His performance started with a slow electric guitar introduction of “Black Skinhead” followed by the sound of barking dogs. He went from song to song with no interruptions until “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” when during the chorus he told his creative director, Virgil Abloh, to fix the video effects. He was back just in time for the second verse, then on to “New Slaves.” It was obviously a crowd favorite as the sea of people cheered and sang along. As soon as the chorus hit, he requested the visuals be changed from polarized to a black and white close up of his face, ultimately stopping the music until it was done. Visuals fixed, crowd cheered, and Mike Dean dropped “that shit” again.
Following an uninterrupted “Power” he introduced himself as “Kanye Motherfuckin’ West,” then went on a rant about the media’s criticism. He also mentioned on his “very publicized interracial relationship,” different types of segregation, and the fact that he’s simply doing a job that he loves.
His second rant took the form of an impromptu auto tuned song after “Runaway,” and it had some pretty catchy lyrics. Set to the piano he asks,"What’s the reason why they would say that Kanye was not a good guy?" He then explained that he just tells the truth, and by default everyone else is feeding us lies. Included in the speech was a great truth bomb stating, "If you see a black guy anywhere he had to work 12 times as hard...So we ain't gon' have no black comedians going on stage spoofing the people that's working hard to open doors, not only for black people, but any creators." This, of course, was in reference to Jay Pharoah's jokes at the MTV Video Music Awards. He ends by telling the crowd to not fall for the tricks played by the media and continue to support artists.
Is it a coincidence that this rant happened after toasts to “douchebags,” “assholes,” “scumbags,” and “jerkoffs”? We’ll never know. What is clear is that he’s had a lot of hits. There are so many that he’s forgotten what songs rose in the charts. He described “All of the Lights” as underground, and seemed surprised when the crowd cheered. West ended the night with a second performance of “Blood On The Leaves.” Despite his interruptions and tangents, he still had time to start the song from the top for one more beat drop, ending exactly at midnight.
On Sunday, Vacationer transported festival-goers from the Liberty Stage to Chilladelphia. With the sun beaming down and nu-hula music, it was easy to imagine yourself in a tropical paradise. A paradise that would later include rain, lightning, and thunder. Throughout the day, the temperature rose to a stifling 93 degrees. This was no problem for Made In America, though. The misting tents and fountain, refillable water stations, cooling bus, and frozen treats set out to keep everyone comfortable. However, the need to cool down didn’t last for long.
Just before Danny Brown, light rain started to fall, delaying his appearance for 15 minutes as the crew covered up equipment. Restless and needing to dance, some in the crowd headed toward the Skate Park and Freedom stages. As people continued to walk away, Brown’s DJ, Skywlkr, called them back with music. Once the crowd was properly pumped, Brown bounced on stage, stuck out his tongue then launched into “Break It (Go).” The late start had no effect on him or Skywlkr. They delivered a high energy set and at the end the sun was shining again.
For a festival with such diverse genres, it’s surprising that only one of the 24 acts performing on the main stages was female. Grimes, the Canadian singer and producer showed off her multi-tasking skills, alternating between synthesizer, sampler, singing, and dancing. Sometimes doing three four at once. With her green hair in a high ponytail, she proved that she didn't need a band to make great music.
Following Grimes, seasoned musicians, Spoon, started their Rocky Stage set with “Rent I Pay,” the first single from their current album, They Want My Soul. Halfway through "Don't You Evah," a visibly disappointed Britt Daniel abruptly stopped singing to inform the audience, "We're being asked to leave because of the weather." Shortly after the rain started, festival organizers announced that an evacuation was needed due to an approaching thunderstorm. Some headed to the nearest exit to seek shelter, and many stayed on the festival grounds cheering and chanting during the 80 minute hiatus. Despite losing over an hour of festival time, every act played a post-storm set. It wouldn't be a great festival if the commitment to "rain or shine" wasn't tested. The Made In America crowd passed with flying colors sticking it out through Spoon's wet encore and Girl Talk's mash-up set.
By the time Pharrell took the stage in a moderately sized hat, the rain was gone. Starting with "Lose Yourself To Dance," his performance included songs from his recent catalog. Then, like Kanye West, he reminded everyone that he's been making hits for years. Starting with 2002's "Hot In Herre" Williams piloted a trip down memory lane, which included Jay Z's "I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)," N.E.R.D.'s "Rockstar," and Snoop Dogg's "Drop It Like It's Hot." In a strange twist, his brief "women will heal the world" speech was followed by Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl" and the very controversial "Blurred Lines." He ended strong telling everyone to send healing prayers to the world as they danced to his mega hit, "Happy."
Not long after Garth Emery's final DJ set at the Freedom stage, Tiësto shut down the Liberty Stage giving EDM fans one last chance to climb trees and dance. It was a complete contrast to the southern rock of Kings of Leon, but it complimented the final performance of the weekend.
Kings of Leon
For Kings of Leon fans in attendance this festival appearance almost didn't happen. Before the thunderstorm threatened to end all activity on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, a tour bus accident left drummer, Nathan Followill with two broken ribs. After 11 cancelled shows and still on the mend, Nathan joined the band on the Rocky Stage. If he was in any amount of pain or discomfort he hid it well. The set was flawless. Song transitions were fast and seamless, though it might have been because of the shortened set.
Most of the songs featured came from the three most recent albums, Mechanical Bull, Come Around Sundown, and Only By The Night. There were also a few gems from the early days of Leon like "Taper Jean Girl" and "Molly's Chambers." As Caleb said before launching into "Don't Matter," Kings of Leon doesn't have as many hits as an act like Pharrell. When a band becomes popular later on in their career, huge festival performances aren't about how many song lyrics fans know. It's about playing songs new and old fans will appreciate. The crowd definitely enjoyed the encore of "Crawl," "Black Thumbnail," and "Sex on Fire," which ended with pyrotechnics shooting up and down onto the stage.